Léo a 12 ans et vit à New York, Etats-Unis. Après avoir vu un documentaire sur les opérations de recherche et de sauvetage de SOS MEDITERRANEE, il a imaginé, rédigé et dessiné l’histoire d’Ayobami, un jeune Tunisien qui tente la traversée de la Méditerranée avec sa famille au début du Printemps arabe. 

“Lived in Tunisia”

Part I

I wake up to the bumpy terrain below the truck’s wheels. As my gaze wanders aimlessly around the truck’s green and partly rusted ceiling, I notice how many small holes, missing screws, and small dents there are.

Let’s hope for a for a fast ride because my behind can’t take much longer on these beat down roads, or just pray for a smooth ride, I think to myself.

“Mamma, can I have some Pita?” I ask quietly so not to wake Bakari, my father, and Marjani, my sister.

My mom nods and hands me some Pita bread, Zaatar, and olive oil for breakfast. I want to leave some for her, but hunger wins out. I chomp down on my breakfast, my stomach happy to have something to consume. I then notice how many people there are in the back of the truck .Their sunken faces buried in rags that we use as clothes. We probably look like that too.

“You miss Siliana, don’t you Ayobami?” She whispers softly to me.

“Yeah,” I sigh back. In fact I missed everything about Siliana, my home, my town. I missed our tabby cat, whom we found in the streets a few years back, all shriveled up and starved, like too many people in Tunisia. He made it back to good health, so we named him Hope, Amal in Arabic. Even though we didn’t have much food to spare – we barely managed to eat, so we only gave him a bit of milk everyday – he got along by eating the occasional bird or mouse. I missed my house even though it was falling apart. Then everything suddenly changed one day. I remembered being let out of school, the houses seemed even more run down than usual, and police squadrons being everywhere. A couple of roads down from my house I saw a man on the ground, a dark velvet pool of blood gathering around the man’s knees, his lip busted, and another long gash running along his arm. I couldn’t tell if he was dead or unconscious. Then when I got home I saw the headlines.

MOHAMED BOUAZIZI LIGHTS HIMSELF ON FIRE WITH PETROL IN FRONT OF CAPITOL IN DEFIANCE!

When I got home I was so relieved to see all of my family home. Even Amal was there all curled up on my sister’s lap, while her hands ran through his thick black coat. At dinner we all sat down and I remembered all too well the only words spoken that night. They were: “We are paying to get smuggled out by truck and boat.”

FVOOM! A large truck passes by and Marjani jolts up so fast you’d think that she just came out of a nightmare. Her tanned forehead beaded with small droplets of sweat. She squints her amber eyes and opened then again, to adjust to the light.

“You must remain quiet until I tell you!” a deep gravelly voice booms over the quiet murmur from the people in the back from the driver’s area.

“It’s for your own good!” Hastily adds squeaky voice from up front.

“Why exactly?” I call back.

“Military checkpoint,” chokes out the squeaky voice.

My stomach turned upside down and leaves me gasping for air. I had heard a lot about them. It was the kind of thing that you would hear from time to time. This one time on the way to school a lady had opened a newspaper from her bag and turned to the page that was normally on the weather, but this time it had an article on attempted human trafficking. She was never seen again.

Silence.

“ Where are you headed towards today, gentlemen?” Asks an unfamiliar voice from outside. It was most likely an officer.

“We are headed to East Hawariah.” Responds the gravelly voice.

“Why?” The officer says.

“To pick up fresh produce and bring it back to Tunis.”

“May I see your permit?” Inquires the officer.

There is a short rustle of cloth, then the gravelly voice says,” Here you go sir.”

“Thank you,” responds the officer, “What’s in the back?”

Everyone in the back freezes. I freeze, my muscles tense. Silence.

“Nothin’ but a few crates”, replies the squeaky voice.

“So if I were to open the back all I would be able to find is a few crates, like you said?” asked the officer

More silence. Please don’t open the back. Please oh please. I think to myself.

“Yes.”

“Then go”, says the officer hesitantly.

I lurch sideways as the truck moves forward.

I wake to the sound of gunshots. Three to be precise.

“GET OUT!” a man outside yells.

Clack, I hear the door unlock, and the scurry of boots on the worn out road. Light pours through into the back and illuminates everything. It takes a bit for my eyes to get used to the light, but once they adjust I see them, ten men in pitch black outfits and face masks blocking the only way out. Then all of a sudden a lady in the front loses it. Her fists flying, desperately attempting to land a blow to one of the men. What is she thinking, there is no point, I think to myself.

Bang.

Bang. Two shots from the man in the middle of the pack of men in black. A dark red fluid oozing out of the woman’s leg and arm.

Then a man and his child find their way to the woman and shield around her. Holding her tightly.

Tears.

Muffled sobs.

Another dark figure shoots the air and yells,”GET OUT NOW, YOU HEARD HIM! DO WE MAKE OURSELVES CLEAR!?”

As I start to make it out the back of the truck, I feel a strong rough hand around my wrist, my father’s hand.

“We have to stay together, ok?” My father tells me.

“Ok.”

As I make my way out,  careful not to slip on the blood stained floor, I finally see land. After so long in that old truck this is paradise. The birds moving around the little trees that litter the landscape. The beauty didn’t last long, though.

That’s when it hit me. How will they keep us here? The crickets were the only thing you could hear for what felt like forever, but in reality it was only a few minutes.

Then like a dagger a man’s voice cut through the cricket’s chirp,”What do you want from us?” He asked wearily.

My heart beat almost synchronized with cricket’s fast chirp.

“100 Dinar per person!!” Hollers out a man in the back of the pack of the gunners.

I glance to my left where my family is standing. My father’s green and brown eyes now wide open, rising above his small rectangular glasses. And my mother’s hand were moving around nervously. I can tell my parents are scared to death

No one spoke. The only noise is now again from the crickets, seconds passed, but it felt like forever. Until the man who shot the lady came to the far end of the single file line, and demanded for the money. The person didn’t move.

More silence.

Thump, kick. The man with the gun now had  a person at his feet, at his mercy. Correction, at his non-existent mercy.

“How much money do we have?” I ask papa silently. His eyebrows shooting up before answering,”300.”

My heart sank. I would not… I could not leave someone behind. It was the four of us or none of us.

I see 100 dinars on the ground! I bent down to reach out but to find that it was a mirage.

My life, what will it come to? Labor for these maniacs? No! This could not be it.

That’s when the hunger set in. I felt what is in my pocket looking for a little something to eat, but I only find nothing but a piece of crumpled paper.

My mind switched to my most valued memories. I was at my fifth birthday with my two friends playing soccer in the town square , the uneven and run down pavement making the ball bounce all over the place. It was better than nothing. Then I was with my grandmother, her skin so pale, so fragile. Like life itself. That day was the last time I would have seen her. Then I was at Marjani’s tenth birthday. Her face lighting up when she saw the gift, my mom’s emerald necklace, which had been passed down from generation to generation.

It was the masked man’s voice that brought me back to reality. During that time, my hands had found their way back into my pocket. They are holding onto paper, which I pull out., and to my surprise they’re a 100 dinar!

“Papa, I just found 100 dinar!”

Give them to me, me mouthed back.

As soon as I hand them over, the man collecting the money is here.

As my father gives the 400 dinars, my gaze wanders over to the stack of bills in the man’s claw-like hands.

How could they do this? Taking advantage of these people, who need this money to start over in Europe? This was part of the little hope these people were clinging to, that they would make it.

As my rage dissipates in the light breeze, I notice the man with the money signaling for the person next to Marjani to go to the pack.

Oh no, he doesn’t have enough money.

I quickly scour my pockets for money, but my father notices and tells me that we will need it for later on.

“You may all go back to your truck, including the driver.”

As we make our way back to our area, I hear the door in the front open and close.

The drivers are back. I think gleefully.

As I fall down to my spot, sleep comes to me immediately.

“Ayobami, wake up, wake up!” I hear Marjani holler out to me while shaking me viciously.

“OK, chill pill, Marji!” I say.

Her small fist connects with my arm. “Don’t call me that, you know it!” she responds.

“Ok, Ok!”

When we get out on the beach, the only thing I see in the dim light is the large black dinghy resting on the beach.

They are kidding me? How are we supposed to travel across the Mediterranean in that… ?

“It’s better than nothing,” altercates my father, as he puts his big rough hand on my shoulder.

PART 2

It is amazing what ten days on a boat can do to a person: the cramped conditions, the lack of food and water, and the smell of pure filth.

At one point, there was a baby who died.  We dumped the baby overboard but not before saying farewell and adorning it with personal items and clothes.

I had thought that my family had it bad, but now I see that so many other people have it worse. We seemed rich in comparison.

I have seen so many ships pass by that I have no hope left that we will get help, even helicopters. We seem unwanted, hated, despised. This has to change.

As I scan the horizon, the only thing I see is a huge ship.

Wait, that’s land!

“Land ahead!” I scream at the top of my lungs, waking everyone.

We made it!

EPILOGUE

As soon as the sea between Libya, Tunisia, and Italy calms, thousands and thousands of refugees embark on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea on underprepared dinghies and abandoned boats. Out of 100 passengers 2 drown. These people are leaving their countries because of wars, climate change, poverty, famine, and oppressionist regimes. A rescue boat needs about 11,000 euros every day. This covers the fuel the food, the material, the medicine, and repairs. The boat is ready 24/7. Even though boats and helicopters do pass by, none offer help. That is why people around the world must try to do something to help with relief organizations like SOS MEDITERRANEE.

 

Acknowledgements

This text was a text originally written as a short story project for my English Class. I got this idea after seeing the documentary on SOS MEDITERRANEE, and also after finishing my drawing, which is on the cover. I want to say thanks to my ELA teacher, to my writing partner, and to my Swiss and Italian parents.